“Ethiopian food? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
You’re forgiven if that was your first thought upon eyeing this review, given that Ethiopia is famed in the Western Hemisphere primarily for its famine in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the stereotype likely has kept one of the world’s most satisfyingly spiced, memorable cuisines under the radar outside east-central Africa.
Las Vegas is home to at least eight Ethiopian restaurants, a healthy number given the city’s size (St. Louis has fewer than five; Miami has none). Some Southern Nevada Ethiopian restaurants emphasize atmosphere, while others focus more on flavor. Axum Ethiopian Restaurant is in the latter group, offering a variety of textures, spice levels and seasonings that makes for an unusually diverse dining experience. And if you haven’t tried Ethiopian food, something else might strike you as unusual: the lack of utensils.
Ethiopian food consists of blended vegetables — primarily lentils — and meat stews, served atop a pancake-like bed of bread known as injera. Diners use their fingers to scoop up the sequestered offerings, ensuring that one bite might consist of injera and spicy brown lentils, the next, injera and collard greens, followed by injera and ground beef or chicken.
“Is it spicy?”
You’re forgiven for asking that, too, given that American food can be tame in that department. Axum’s food isn’t particularly hot, although the brown lentils can leave beads of sweat on one’s brow. If you’re looking to spice things up, let your server know, or ask for berbere (pronounced (bur-bur) or awaze (AH-wah-zay) on the side. The former is a chile-and-spice mix common in Ethiopian cuisine, while the latter is a pasty hot sauce made of berbere, flavoring vegetables and other ingredients.
If you’re looking to avoid bones — or meat in general — opt for the vegetarian combination. Most Ethiopian restaurants offer one, and Axum’s features salad, spicy red lentils, thick chickpea stew, yellow split peas, cabbage and potato, and collard greens. Those ingredients create a palette as colorful as it sounds, offering the kind of edible beauty usually reserved for sushi.
Ethiopian food is filling, thanks in part to the bread. A meat or vegetarian combo can comfortably feed two or leave one person with leftovers. Ethiopian food refrigerates well, as the flavors blend and seep into the accompanying injera as hours pass.